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In my experience, academics are almost always expected to contribute some of their time to activities beyond their principal teaching or research roles. These extra tasks include, for example, attending open days, visit days, serving on one or more committees, acting as head of a student year group, admissions officer - the list is long.

Whether this should be the case is not in question here.

In one of my previous institutions, there was in place a "brownie-point" system which was supposed to keep a track of how much extra administrative/organisational/outreach or otherwise "extra-mile" work an academic had taken on. When a new task required action, the academics could use their accumulated points to argue why they shouldn't (or indeed should, in some cases) be allocated the task. Setting the value of a task relative to all the others, as you might imagine, raised some difficulties.

My question is: has anyone experience of any other kind of formalised system of evaluating and allocating these "extra-mile" tasks?

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I would formalise it using at least three or four miles of extra mile. –  Dave Clarke Feb 5 '13 at 16:33
    
@DaveClarke: Well, yes, quite! Hence the question. I see too many colleagues who take on, incrementally, small to medium extra tasks, each seemingly of small time expenditure. Then they burn out. A way of quantifying the problem seems like a step toward avoiding this, in a structured way. –  Nicholas Feb 5 '13 at 16:46
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I am not aware of any department that doesn't assign principal teaching, research and SERVICE roles. Much of this "extra mile" work is actually part of ones standard job duties. –  StrongBad Feb 5 '13 at 16:52
    
@DanielE.Shub: And this is my experience also. Most academic contracts have that "catch-all" term along the lines of: "...and any other duties deemed appropriate by the line manager." My question is on whether anyone has any experience in a system which formalises and quantifies the impact on an academic's time resulting from the allocation of these extra tasks. –  Nicholas Feb 5 '13 at 16:55
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Setting the value of a task relative to all the others, as you might imagine, raised some difficulties. Why not going for an auction system? "I can enter the admission committee, but only in exchange for 200 brownie points" "I'll do it for 150" "Taken!" –  Federico Poloni Feb 5 '13 at 17:48

2 Answers 2

At my university, we have this system for PhD students.

I am a PhD student. In my contract, I have "up to 20% department duties". When I get assigned tasks not related to my research — teaching, administrative tasks, presenting our institute to visitors, etc. — I write down the hours. At the end of the semester, I report to my boss how many hours I have worked on such duties. Then, a corresponding fraction of my salary is funded from a different pot of money. At the end of my PhD, this means I will have an equivalent amount of time extra to finish my research before my contract finishes.

I think the system is quite fair, although some tasks — most notably teaching — don't get the actual time assigned, but according to a certain formula. So in practice, I do lose research time by doing teaching, because teaching takes more time than the formula accounts for, certainly if it's a first time. However, it's still much better than a system with no accounting at all, such as I have understood to be common elsewhere in the world.

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It works for students, but it hardly works for permanent staff. Many colleagues in industry do that (per-project time accounting) and it leads to madness. –  F'x Feb 5 '13 at 19:47

This is similar to the answer from @gerrit but after the comment from @F'x I thought I would write it up separately.

I would think the best way would simply be to track how many hours are spent on each of these tasks by each person. If task A takes person A 2 hours and task B takes person B 4 hours, then it seems clear how much effort people put in. Though, one does need to watch out for padding any time people log hours for any purpose but that's management's job.

I used to do this in industry and while I would have preferred to avoid it, I didn't find it maddening. It simply added about 10 minutes to each day to log everything I did and who should be charged for it. It would be VERY maddening if task A was allocated 2 hours and task B was allocated 2 hours just because of some formula (like the teaching example from @gerrit)

Another issue is that person A might be able to perform task B in 2 hours, in which case, person A should do it. Quantifying other than by number of actual hours invested is only going to lead to resentment and ill-feelings within the department (whether you're talking about academia or industry). As far as knowing who is better at something, that's also management's job. I say this after being in management for more than a decade before moving to academia.

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